Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Bearded Bullet's Top Ten Films of 2016

2016 has come and gone.  In fact, 2015 and 2014 came and went without much of a peep from yours truly.  I got re-promoted at my job.  I got a new nickname (Pawpaw).  I saw lots of movies.  Played lots of games.  Did stuff.  Exciting, no?  But alas, I decided to get off the bench and into the game (figuratively, of course..) and do some work on the good ol' blog-o-sphere.  I figured it would apropos to rekindle my online work with my top ten films of 2016.  Since I didn't review any of them on here in an official capacity, I'll just include a little write up as to my reasoning for each film's inclusion in the list.  Then, my plan is to review every new film of 2017 as they come out.  We'll see how long I last (that's what she said!)!!

10.  Patriot's Day - Peter Berg has been 3-for-3 with me in his last directorial efforts (I also am a Battleship apologist, but that's a discussion for another day); he's been putting out great films, with great performances, that draw real and raw emotions out of me.  I'm not afraid to talk about crying at movies, games, and shows, and Berg knows how to pull the tears out of me.  Patriot's Day is a retelling of the real-life Boston marathon bombings of 2013.  I'm no expert on the topic, but I know that at least the characters are based upon real-life people who lived through the events; before the credits rolled he inserted images and interviews with the real people and the real events (that's when the waterworks always start).  Unlike his last two reality-based films, Patriot's Day weaves together four different narratives, following different characters, and blends them together masterfully, and gives you a glimpse into the lives and motivations of the various players in the story.  Most films wouldn't take the time to set up a side character who really only gets involved in the story in the third act, but Berg makes you care about those who seem small compared to the overall narrative.  Patriot's Day is gripping, thrilling, and will have you on the edge of your seat and then in tears by the time the credits roll.

9.  Allied – World War Two is kind of my jam.  And this year we got two great additions to the long list of great WW2 films.  The first on my list is the stellar Allied, Robert Zemeckis’ latest drama, in which we follow two spies (played by Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard) who fall in love in Casablanca and decide to start a family in England.  But questions are raised when Cotillard’s Marianne is believed to be a double-agent for the Nazis.  Allied is a spy thriller with little action, but when there’s action it’s out of this world.  Zemeckis builds tension masterfully and has you on the edge of your seat with just a simple conversation between two people.  The cast is stacked, what action there is is well-staged and intense, and the tension is ramped up to a fever pitch in such a skillful manner.  You truly don’t know what’s true and what isn’t up until the final few moments of this well-crafter thriller.

8. Deepwater Horizon – Peter Berg’s second entry in my list just beats out Patriot’s Day as my favorite work of his this year.  What is truly astounding about Horizon is the sheer scale of the film and the hyper-realistic effects, with amazing performances that draw out real, raw emotion.  Following the real-life events of the incident on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, Horizon grounds the events by making you care about the key players; Berg takes time to introduce you to these based-on-real-life characters and give you reasons to empathize with them.  This all really adds to the tension of what we all know will come to pass and the feeling of dread that permeates the film.  This is a classic example of surprise vs. suspense.  We all know what will happen in the end (even if you don’t know all the players and facts most viewers will probably have a general sense of the event), but Berg masterfully controls and builds tension until it hits a fever pitch and all hell breaks loose.  The effects, whether practical or digital are truly astounding; I never thought for one second that Wahlberg and co. weren’t actually on a real oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and on a set with green screen.  If you weren’t reacting emotionally to the events of the film, you definitely will be by the time the credits begin to roll and you see all of the real individuals who lived and died during the film’s real-life counterpart.  Berg knows how to bring out the emotion in his audiences.

7.  Hacksaw Ridge – The beauty of Ridge isn’t that it tells a real-life story of an amazing individual who did some truly astounding and incredible things during his tour in the Pacific theater during WW2, but is that Mel Gibson has the audacity to make a stellar war film that really isn’t about war.  Ridge is about one man’s courage to stand up for what he believes in and won’t bend or break in the face of adversity.  On paper, that sounds like a relatively boring film, but Ridge most certainly is not.  The first two acts of the film are spent dealing with the adversity of Andrew Garfield’s Desmond Doss; Doss is a pacifist but wants to serve his country by enlisting in the army.  Doss refuses to touch a weapon; he wants to serve as a medic to save lives rather than take them.  If the film had ended before we got to any action, I would’ve been fully satisfied – that’s the mark of a great narrative with compelling characters.  But when we do get to the action it’s out-of-this-world and utterly thrilling, compelling, and gut-wrenching.  I’ve rarely seen such intense gore and violence on display in any war film, let alone one that was juxtaposed with such calm and pacifism in the first two-thirds.  Doss’ actions are so astounding that this film really needs to be seen to be believed.

6.  La La Land – What hasn’t already been said about La La Land  that needs to be?  It’s already the winningest film in Golden Globes history and deservedly so.  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone put in career-best performances, and Damien Chazelle puts on a masterclass of filmmaking.  The opening scene, presented in one continuous take, sets the tone for what’s to come – a film that will dazzle and thrill you with incredible musical numbers that’ll leave you thinking “how’d they do that?”  Land pretty much works on every level – from that beginning musical number we’re introduced to our main players and their first meeting…which isn’t exactly a meet-cute.  Their paths cross again and their relationship is allowed to build organically and charmingly till it’s inevitable powder-keg of a break up.  Peppered throughout the film are the aforementioned musical numbers that are really a sight to behold.  You can’t help but want to run out of the theater and purchase the soundtrack/score immediately.  Musicals aren’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to set aside any predispositions, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to the joy and real emotion that is La La Land.

5.  The Witch – This film is a masterclass is building tension and suspense and has kept my thoughts and attention for almost a full year.  Few films have that distinction, especially from this past year.  The less you know about this film going in, the better, but what I’ll say is that The Witch gives us a glimpse into a world rarely seen on film; 17th century New England and its Quaker settlers.  The language is period-accurate but easy enough to understand and the attention to detail overall is astounding.  I truly felt like I was transported to that world and the dirt, grime, and hardship that accompanied it.  The Witch is a pseudo horror film at its heart, and doesn’t shy away from going all the way in the insane climax of the film.

4.  Star Trek Beyond – I could talk for many, many pages about my love for Star Trek as a franchise.  I’m quite the fan of Abrams’ 2009 Trek but not so much Into Darkness.  Justin Lin stepped up to the helm (pun intended) for Beyond and his Fast and the Furious energy is felt throughout the film, and not just in the exciting motorbike sequence near the end.  The vast cast and crew of the Enterprise are given more to do in Beyond than ever before; every crew member makes a difference in the story and is given their time to shine.  New partnerships are forged (McCoy with Spock, Sulu with Uhura, Kirk with Chekov, etc.) that make for some great laughs and thrilling moments of action.  Without giving much away, how the movie ties in to the Enterprise series had me geeking out like crazy.  One of my favorite moments of any film of the year comes near the finale and involves a certain song from the 2009 film.  I have goosebumps right now just thinking about it!  Idris Elba was an incredible edition to the cast, but the breakout for me was Sofia Boutella as Jaylah.  She brought a playful energy to the role and I reallllly hope that she’s brought back for the fourth film.  The passing of Leonard Nimoy before filming was a huge blow to the franchise and pop culture as a whole, and screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung turned his passing into a major narrative thread for Zachary Quinto’s younger Spock and gave way to a tear-jerking scene that gets me every time.  Beyond is just so much fun and really feels like a big-screen version of an episode of any of the myriad television series.

3.  Arrival – Denis Villeneuve is slowly but surely proving that he’s one of the most exciting filmmakers in Hollywood today.  Arrival adds to his recent trend of outstanding thrillers, but this one comes with a sci-fi bend.  Who would’ve thought that linguistics and watching smart people decipher a foreign language would be compelling, gripping, thrilling, and enthralling but Arrival accomplishes all of these and does so with confidence and panache.  The fact that massive alien structures randomly appeared all over the planet helps…adding in this sci-fi twist helps to keep the tension up.  Why are these ships here?  What’s inside?  How can we communicate with what’s inside?  What do they want?  One of the more chilling issues raised is the subtle difference between the words “tool” and “weapon.”  To us, the difference is quite stark, but when dealing with another language, one that we haven’t fully translated or deciphered, the difference could mean global catastrophe.  The narrative builds to a terrifying level of Game Theory played between nuclear nations.  Without spoiling anything, the way the narrative unfolds is unconventional, to say the least, and hits you in the gut with a MASSIVE twist that leads you breathless and wondering if you’d do the same things in the situations the characters find themselves.

2.  Rogue One - Everything has already been said about R1 that needs to be said.  It's the best prequel story by a country mile, and stands tall amongst its older siblings.  I'm a massive fan of war films, and Rogue One is the closest we'll get to an actual Star WARs film.  It's gritty, messy, and at times morally ambiguous.  For the first time, we're shown a side of the Rebel Alliance we didn't know existed - the side that's willing to do bad things for a greater purpose.  There are very few missteps along the way that don't really detract from the film, for me, but definitely put a dent in it (essentially everything to do with Saw Gerrera).  Director Krennick may be my favorite Star Wars villain, while the motley crew that comes together to help Jyn complete her mission is populated with likable new characters who I wish we could spend more time with.  Gareth Edwards was given the unenviable task of giving us the mission to steal the Death Star plans and bridge the gap to A New Hope and he pulled it off with aplomb.  The film has what may be my favorite third act of ANY of the Wars films, and certainly has my favorite last five minutes...."prepare a boarding party" had me losing it.

1.  Silence – Every year there’s one film that grabs me and doesn’t let go.  Cloud Atlas in 2012.  Drive in 2011.  This year’s film may not be my absolute favorite, or technically the “best” but it’s quite special and deserves to be categorized as such.  Silence tells the story of two Jesuit priets (Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield), who take on a journey to 17th century Japan.  Their former mentor (Liam Neeson) has gone missing, with rumors that he has renounced his faith in Catholicism and God in public and has taken a Japanese name and wife.  Their journey is fraught with peril, as the Japanese government and governor have been rounding up Christians and missionaries alike and torturing and killing them in droves.  What Christians remain do so in hiding, for fear of their lives.  But at least one village’s faith is restored upon finding the padres on their shores.  Silence is long, but deliberate.  It took decades for this adaption to arrive on our screens, and the care, love, and craft that went into its creation can be seen on screen tenfold.  Silence isn’t exciting.  It isn’t thrilling.  But it’s captivating and will hold your attention despite your urges to divert it elsewhere.  You just can’t look away.  You need to know what’s going to happen next, even if what happens next isn’t a thrilling action beat.  The two padres’ faith is tested time and time again, as is the faith of the Japanese townsfolk who are harboring them at the risk of their own lives.  Silence raises some serious religious questions, many of which are beyond my level of cinematic interpretation, but the one that sticks out above all others is that of blind devotion.  These villagers live in squalor and filth, with little to their names.  The promise of “paradiso” or paradise is a driving factor; they’ll endure the hardships in this material world for promise of a greater afterlife.  This is all called into question by the governor, Inoue (Issei Ogata).  He calls into question the translation of the English word “god” and the interpretation of that word into Japanese.  Are the converted Japanese Christians really worshipping the same God that the missionaries do?  This is just the tip of the iceberg for what questions Silence raises.  My favorite moment of the year didn’t come from a bombastic action scene or a rousing speech, or a heart-stopping musical cue, but from a moment of complete and utter silence.  I can’t stop thinking about this film and that’s usually a good sign.  Oddly enough, it’s the type of film that I may never actually watch again because there’s a lot to endure emotionally and mentally, but I feel like it’ll stick with me for years to come.

And there you have it, folks!!  My top ten films of 2016.  Before we ride off into the proverbial sunset, just some quick facts I noticed while writing and compiling this list:

-Two films take place in the 17th century
-Andrew Garfield puts on career-best performances in two films
-Two films are directed by Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg
-Two films are set during World War Two
-Only one film is a sequel

Bullet out.

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